Purpose of Copyright Law

The primary purpose of copyright law is not so much to protect the interests of the authors/creators, but rather to promote the progress of science and the useful arts—that is—knowledge. To accomplish this purpose, copyright ownership encourages authors/creators in their efforts by granting them a temporary monopoly, or ownership of exclusive rights for a specified length of time. However, this monopoly is somewhat limited when it conflicts with an overriding public interest, such as encouraging new creative and intellectual works, or the necessity for some members of the public to make a single copy of a work for non profit, educational purposes. You will be learning more about how this works in the next modules.
In addition to balancing the public and individual rights, you need a basic understanding of copyright law before you can make appropriate decisions regarding any proposed use of copyrighted material. When thinking about the possible use of copyrighted material, keep in mind the perspectives of both the owner and the user of copyrighted material. When using another person’s material, ask yourself: “What kind of respect and observance of copyright law would I want others to follow?” Likewise, “If I am about to use someone else’s copyrighted works, what kind of respect and observance of copyright laws should I follow?” This approach suggests attention to the principles of respect and trust. Respect for the rights of others and trust in those who have an opportunity to use your works.
Be aware that mere ownership of a book, manuscript, painting, or any other copy of a copyrighted work does not automatically grant you copyright ownership.
In summary, some important points to remember:

  • The authority to establish Copyright Law comes from the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8.
  • One major purpose of Copyright Law is to “promote the progress of the sciences and useful arts”, in other words knowledge.
  • Copyright Law is an attempt to balance public interest with the rights of the individual author/creator.

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